Document Detail

Chance as an explanatory factor in evolutionary biology.
MedLine Citation:
PMID:  1801049     Owner:  NLM     Status:  MEDLINE    
Darwinian evolutionary biology has often been criticized for appealing to the notion of 'chance' in its explanations. According to some critics, such appeals exhibit the explanatory poverty of evolutionary theory. In response, defenders of Darwinism sometimes downplay the importance of 'chance' in evolution. I believe that both of these approaches are mistaken. The main thesis of this paper is that the term 'chance' encompasses a number of distinct concepts, and that at least some of these concepts serve essential explanatory functions in evolutionary biology. This claim is defended by way of an historical survey of the major concepts of 'chance' in the history of evolutionary biology, especially the concepts used by Jean Baptiste Lamarck, Charles Darwin, and Sewall Wright. An examination of their biologies shows how the concepts of 'chance' used cohere with their major scientific objectives and methods. These concepts survive and continue to function as important explanatory factors in contemporary evolutionary biology. Examples of such usage are given, and the explanatory status of 'chance' assessed.
T Shanahan
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Publication Detail:
Type:  Biography; Historical Article; Journal Article    
Journal Detail:
Title:  History and philosophy of the life sciences     Volume:  13     ISSN:  0391-9714     ISO Abbreviation:  Hist Philos Life Sci     Publication Date:  1991  
Date Detail:
Created Date:  1992-04-20     Completed Date:  1992-04-20     Revised Date:  2009-11-19    
Medline Journal Info:
Nlm Unique ID:  8003052     Medline TA:  Hist Philos Life Sci     Country:  ENGLAND    
Other Details:
Languages:  eng     Pagination:  249-68     Citation Subset:  IM; Q; S    
Department of Philosophy, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, CA 90045.
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MeSH Terms
Adaptation, Biological
Biology / history*
Gene Frequency
History, 18th Century
History, 19th Century
History, 20th Century
Selection, Genetic
Personal Name Subject
Personal Name Subject:
J B Lamarck; C Darwin; S Wright

From MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine

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